Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

Parable of the Sower, 19 July 2015

Matthew 13:1-23

Series Overview: this summertime series will examine the various parables of Jesus recorded in thirteenth chapter of Matthew.

Big Idea: spiritual seeds produce a variety of results

Introduction

Stories. Life is filled with stories. In many ways, life itself is a macro story with a nearly infinite number of micros stories contained within.

What is your favorite childhood story? Why?

What is your favorite Bible story? Why?

Stories are powerful. They’re so powerful, in fact, that they’re strategically used to prompt you to spend money. The success of Tom’s Shoes lies largely in the story behind them; for every pair purchased, another is given to a shoeless person in another country. I have a friend, Joelle McNamera, who started a company as a teenager called Badala, which means “instead.” She employs former sex slaves to produce jewelry and sells it at market rate, providing alternative employment for these women “instead” of their former work. Purchasing a Badala product does more than just provide you with another piece of jewelry; it changes lives, and that story is getting noticed, now even available at some Chicagoland Target stores. Author Donald Miller has begun a consulting business showing companies like Intel, Chick-fil-A, and Steelcase how to use story in their marketing.

Stories are powerful in other ways. Most movies would be dreadful without a good story. Many songs tell moving stories in their lyrics. Ghost stories at a campfire, stories of the good old days told by the aged, or even the infamous fishing stories capture our imagination and seize our attention.

Some have found stories to be unnecessary, preferring nothing more than hard data. “Just the facts. Get to the point,” they say. Jesus vehemently disagrees. He used the sacred texts, He was straightforward in much of His preaching, but so much of His teachings focused on stories, parables in particular. For the next several weeks we’re going to look at one chapter of the Bible, Matthew 13, and the parables of Jesus recorded for us.

Lectio Divina

There is a real art to telling a great story. Listening to one is quite a different experience from silently reading one. Lectio Divina is an ancient practice of simply listening to a passage of scripture read repeatedly, asking the Holy Spirit to speak through the text.

We have done this a time or two in the past. Today’s text will be read aloud three times. Please sit comfortably still as the text is read. Consider these two questions:

  1. What word or phrase grabs my attention?
  2. What question about the text would you ask a New Testament scholar?

Remember, the text will be read three times. Be still and listen to God’s Word and ask Him to speak to you now.

Matthew 13:3-9

Then he told them many things in parables, saying:

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Reflection

  1. What word or phrase grabbed your attention?
  2. What question about the text would you ask a New Testament scholar?

It is essential that we read the Bible, but things get especially exciting when the Bible reads us!

Our text today will be especially familiar to those who were a part of the Envision DR trip two weeks ago to the Dominican Republic. Our team presented this parable to various groups of students at a Compassion International site hosted by one of our Alliance Churches near Santiago. We used readings, songs, drama, and even puppets to present this account. I’m sorry, but I don’t have the puppets today!

Context

There’s a bit more to this parable that what was read. The previous verses provide the context.

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. (Matthew 13:1-2)

Jesus then begins with the first parable, a story of a sower scattering seed.

Food

We take food for granted. It seems like it’s everywhere—grocery stores, roadside stands, coffee shops, in our pantries and refrigerators, drive-thru windows, …We are very blessed to live in a land of abundance and plenty, yet so many in our country and countries around the globe will go to be hungry tonight. May we always be grateful and generous.

In the midst of our wealth, I have heard stories of urban children actually believing food was produced in the grocery store, unaware of its agricultural origins (or chemical laboratory origins in the case of our processed foods!). Food is important to us, but in Jesus’ day it was not as convenient to obtain as it is for us. Jesus taught His followers to pray not for a full refrigerator and freezer but for daily bread. Needless to say, agricultural metaphors are not powerful in our culture as in Jesus’ day, but the parable is no less powerful.

Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. (Matthew 13:3-4)

What is needed to grow a crop?

  • seed
  • sun
  • water
  • soil

This is a parable about sowing seeds, but the attention is on the soil. It’s commonly understood that the same type of seeds, sun, and water are used in each of the four accounts. Notice these were not gardens. People often grew crops in open areas with footpaths.

A footpath was not a good place for seeds. Even if it was once good soil, the feet of travelers and their possessions would compress the soil, making it hard. It’s no wonder the birds were able to eat the seeds. You can’t grow many crops in a hard road!

Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. (Matthew 13:5-6)

It’s not enough to have soil. You need an adequate amount of soil for the roots to grow deep. Each time I add a new plant to our small rose garden I read how deep I must first dig. A seed in shallow soil will not last. A plant is only as strong as its roots.

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. (Matthew 13:7)

Have you ever touched a thorn? They’re terrible! It’s no wonder they made a crown of thorns for Jesus during His torture. They destroy everything they touch, including plants.

Finally Jesus saves the best for last.

Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:8-9)

Good soil is essential to good crops. It always amazed me how tiny seeds can produce huge crops in months or even weeks.

Story: my tree Herman

What Does It Mean?

Besides basic gardening techniques, what is Jesus’ point in talking about the sower? We can know because we can read ahead, but often (usually?) Jesus’ parables were not understood. In fact,

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” (Matthew 13:10)

Jesus spends several verses answering their question before addressing what must’ve been their primary question: what does this parable mean?

“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. (Matthew 13:18-19)

Perhaps this is like drive-by evangelism, the megaphone guy yelling at people he doesn’t know and will never see again. Although some claim fruit, many hear and leave confused, hurt or angry. Like a baby or a plant, growth takes time.

The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. (Matthew 13:20-21)

I’ve seen this in people. It’s like the old expression, “Easy come, easy go.” They get excited about everything, so they can quickly move from Jesus to Buddha to whatever the latest fad may be. They may also be sincere in their faith until storms come, they blame God, and renounce their faith. I’ve heard so many tragic stories of people who used to follow Jesus…until a priest abused them, a Christian betrayed them, a storm destroyed them, or they simply weren’t willing to pay the price to follow Jesus. We take our freedom of religion for granted in this country, yet most Christians on our planet pay a dear price for their faith—and they have since Jesus arrived and experienced the ultimate persecution. Following Jesus is not just praying a prayer, getting a “get out of hell free” card, and living in guaranteed health and wealth. It’s a 24/7 fully surrendered life to Jesus as LORD, as King. We must die in order to experience the abundant life He offers.

The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22)

This is so common in our culture, too. We are obsessed with consumerism and stuff, working crazy hours to be able to maintain lifestyles we don’t need and even buying things we can’t afford. Jesus said we cannot worship God and money.

But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:23)

Many crops are contagious. One planted seed might produce multiple plants over the years. That’s what happens when we are infected by the love virus of God’s Word: it spreads to others. Good news must be shared!

So What?

I believe we are to both sow the Word of God into the lives of others and also tend to our own soil.

The sower had a job to do. He took action. It may have been hot! I’m sure it was in the Middle East! He couldn’t run up to Meijer and grab a bag of salad or an apple. He sowed seeds…but seemed careless about where he was placing the seeds, especially the seeds that fell on the path. It’s easy to be discouraged when people don’t respond positively to your faith. I believe the key to all sowing of spiritual seeds is prayer. It’s like supernatural fertilizer for the soil. There are many you and I know who simply are not interested in matters of faith today. We must persevere in prayer for the Holy Spirit to soften their heart and prepare the soil of their soul. Others, however, are ready, their soil is prepared, they are receptive and it’s a joy to plant and cultivate those new crops!

How is your soul’s soil? What are the thorns in your life? Worry? Wealth? Busyness? Consumerism? Work? Social media? Politics? Religion? What is keeping you from becoming a “little Jesus,” a choice fruit, a reproducing crop?

You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

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